The tallest of all the mountains in Kenya, Mount Kenya is a towering volcanic peak. It is also the second-highest mountain in all of Africa, second only to nearby Tanzania’s renowned Mount Kilimanjaro.
The mountain is known to be around three and a half million years old and at one time stood at an even greater height above sea level than its present 5,199 meters. What we see today, an unusual silhouette of jagged crests, is the impressive remains of what the mountain actually used to be during prehistoric times.
Many people justifiably dream about climbing this mountain, which is located in the appropriately named Mount Kenya National Park.and its contrast of slopes and lofty summits only add to its wonderment. Climbing Mt Kenya is like entering two different worlds at the same time…
Grassland covers its base to the north and west. South and east is more grass, along with low trees. A dense forest of cedar and yellowood covers the slopes, followed by bamboo and heathers up higher. But life exists even higher yet, with rare mosses and lichens known to grow only on this mountain and a few others in East Africa surviving near the top. You might even see the “water-holding cabbage” or the “ostrich plume plant.”
Mount Kenya is an equatorial mountain but its peak is covered with snow. Joseph Thomson, a young Scottish traveler, revealed this phenomenon to the western world, but few people believed him at first. After all, it was difficult to believe that a snow-capped mountain could possibly exist in Kenya’s tropical heat. Some people even thought Thomson was hallucinating from altitude sickness.
As the years passed, other people ascended the slopes of Mt. Kenya and discovered the same thing, and we all know the truth now. Local Kikuyu and Masai tribes have long lived and worked amid the forests and grasslands of the mountains in Kenya, growing crops and hunting game. In fact, Mount Kenya’s 3 highest peaks – Batian, Nelion and Lenana – are named after important leaders in the Masai tribe’s past.
Climbers have four main routes to choose from: the Naro Moru trail is the quickest ascent but it is also by far the steepest; the Burguret trail is considered one of the toughest climbs with much forest trekking; the Sirimon trail is known for giving nature lovers the opportunity to see monkeys, lizards, antelopes and other wildlife; and the picturesque Chogoria trail offers the most beautiful scenery.
Unless you are an experienced mountain climber though, don’t try to climb the Nelion and Batian peaks. Take the easier Point Lenana summit instead. It is equally beautiful but does not present the hardships of the other two summits, which are extremely steep and have a minimum of a grade IV climb.
But if you’d like to try those two tougher peaks, you should join the Mountain Club of Kenya before attempting to conquer them. The advice that club’s mountaineers can give you may be crucial to your health and safety. Even the easier Lenana will require calves of steel and strong willpower, but with some prior training, it is fairly accessible to people of all fitness levels. It won’t disappoint you, even though it is a bit easier.
You should consider the extreme weather conditions and the effects of the high altitude that you’ll encounter, especially when you reach 4000 meters and higher. You can expect freezing temperatures, harsh winds, thin air, daily rain or snow, and mists all around you.
Trust me, you will need to prepare well to withstand the mountain’s rigorous conditions. Never underestimate the need to use special equipment such as an ice axe and crampons. The best months to tackle the mountains in Kenya are February and August.
Don’t be put off by the possibility of bad weather or altitude sickness. The feeling of victory and achievement that you will experience will stay in your heart for a very long time after you leave Mt Kenya. Don’t be deterred by the cost, either, because you will soon forget it when you realize that conquering Mount Kenya is among the most exhilarating experiences you could ever have.